Vancouver's Punjabi Market neighbourhood is changing

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      For more than 20 years, All India Sweets & Restaurant has been serving South Asian cuisine in Vancouver.

      Known for its good-value buffets and desserts, the establishment at the southwest corner of Main Street and 49th Avenue is in the heart of the Punjabi Market.

      Like other shops in the once thriving commercial district that offers a taste of Indo-Canadian culture in the city, All India Sweets will have to find a new home.

      Its landlord, Orr Development, has other plans for the site at 6507 Main Street. These plans include the neighbouring lot, at 6541 Main Street, which previously housed Guru Bazaar, a clothing store that had operated even longer than the restaurant and moved a few years ago to Surrey.

      The Orr family has been in the development business for four generations, and Tim Orr is the current development manager of the company.

      “We’ve owned this property for over 60 years,” Orr told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview about the location of All India Sweets & Restaurant. “It’s time that it’s lived its life, and we need to move on and, hopefully, inject something new in the area.”

      Orr Development has applied to the city to change the zoning classification of 6507–6541 Main Street from commercial (C-2) to comprehensive development (CD-1).

      The firm wants to construct a six-storey, mixed-use building on the combined lots with a total size of more than 19,000 square feet. It plans to build 75 homes—which it will rent out at market rates—and commercial space at street level.

      Orr related that about a year-and-a-half ago, the company held an event to gauge public opinion before finalizing its rezoning application. About 50 people came and most were supportive, he said. “It seems to be that there is a good appetite for it,” he said.

      Any community enthusiasm for the project might be driven by a desire to reinvigorate the Punjabi Market, a stretch of about six blocks along Main Street on both sides of 49th Avenue. The district has declined as a focal point of South Asian commerce and culture, with many of its old businesses relocated to Surrey.

      According to Orr, average rent for retail spaces in the area has decreased from about $35 per square foot a year during the 1990s to around $20 at present.

      “It’s…the only area in the entire Metro Vancouver that regressed in retail values,” he said.

      An open house will be held on October 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at 6511 Main Street about Orr Development’s plans, which include almost 12,000 square feet of new commercial space.

      “We’re hoping that getting some fresh tenants in there and some local businesses will help revitalize the area,” Orr said.

      Thirty-five of the 75 rental apartments being eyed by the company are one-bedroom units. The rest are 11 studio units, 24 two-bedroom apartments, and five three-bedroom homes.

      All India Sweets may want to return, but Orr isn’t sure if that is going to happen: “It’s hard for a business to shut down and then resurface two years later. We’re trying to aim for a kind of mom-and-pop tenants in the area.”